The Huawei P30 Pro is a fantastic device that rightly deserves its camera plaudits. It is the gateway to a zoomed-in smartphone camera future that will no doubt force other OEMs to really think about what type of lens setups we see in upcoming devices.
With that said, the question remains: do our current crop of devices really need that extra telephoto zoom distance? How do two of the best smartphone cameras on the market stack up against arguably the new ‘King’ of smartphone photography?
Let’s start off by saying that this is a three-way shootout between the Pixel 3 XL, P30 Pro and the iPhone XS Max. Arguably if this were a flat test, it would be unfair to the Pixel as it has a solitary lens and must rely solely on digital zoom to achieve close up photography from afar.
Why are we doing this you ask? Well, how much difference does an optical zoom lens make? I think that you’ll be very surprised with the results, especially considering the Pixel 3 is heavily reliant on just one lens and some solid software.
Technically, all three devices utilize 10x digital zoom, the exception being that the P30 Pro uses a hybrid 5x zoom that enhances images via a combination of hardware and software. Straight away you can see the quality on offer from all devices with the standard wide shot. The Pixel 3 XL has my favorite representation of the cloudy Parisian day, but the iPhone too has a lovely warm quality. Conversely, I can’t say I am that much of a fan of the P30 wider shot in all honesty.
When you activate that 10x zoom you can see just how far ahead the P30 Pro is. The Pixel 3 XL turns into a mushy affair, it looks as though a ton of filters have been applied and really doesn’t hold up too well — although after initially taking I thought it looked great! Naturally, the iPhone XS Max fairs a little better, managing to just pip the Pixel.
Just look at the detail preserved by the P30 Pro, it really is impressive to see side-by-side with the current crop of smartphones. When zoomed, I think the iPhone manages the colors and exposure arguably the best though.
Looking at all three wide images of Paris’ Parc de Princes stadium and you can see the imaging qualities of all three main camera lenses and sensors. The Pixel and P30 Pro are great in their own unique ways. I’m not as convinced by the iPhone XS Max, but it’s not a bad photo in any regards — save for the banal subject matter.
Given the better lighting, the Pixel 3 XL at 10x digital zoom does a much better job. You can make out the main text on the stadium signage although the smaller text does get a little muddy. For a solitary lens and digital zoom, I am really impressed. The iPhone does a solid job but I found framing a little difficult at this distance — hence the poor shot.
You can just about make out the text on the sign, although it only does a smidgen better than the Pixel 3. Considering it has a 2x telephoto zoom lens, it doesn’t seem to help when the distance is this great. The Pixel does a better job with the colors and contrast in my opinion, but the iPhone still fares well.
Check out the P30 Pro, crystal clear, the shadows and color are very accurately preserved too. This for me is when the Huawei-made handset really shows its benefits. You can hone in on details that might not necessarily be immediately visible and then capture crisp shots.
Walking around Paris, and I spotted what I thought were some Lime scooters. What better way to test the zoom capabilities of all three handsets?
It’s a pretty uninteresting picture taken in a wide view, but using zoom enhances it ten-fold (pun intended). The dynamic range and shadows of the Pixel 3 image straight out of the camera are top tier. The iPhone too produces a pleasing image but I like the P30 Pro wide image best — as the near lampost has much more detail and color accuracy.
Honed in on that Lime scooter across the street and at 10x zoom, the Pixel 3 really does start to fall apart. You can tell what you’re looking at, the colors are good, but it still likes like a painting rather than a photo. Apple’s iPhone XS Max does a lot better but there is plenty of noise and artefacts. I would say there is a hint of over-exposure too.
It’s not unexpected but the P30 Pro gives you a beautifully crisp zoomed-in look at the electric scooter. I can’t say the exposure is great though, but it’s the no-contest we expected from the get-go.
A quick look at the side of this building and there inherent strengths of the main sensor of each camera is apparent again. I’m torn as to which I prefer. Something in-between the iPhone and Pixel would be the most accurate. That said, the iPhone does the best job with the building, but the sky is preserved by the Pixel.
The P30 Pro has a bit of a yellow tone that I have noticed in some cases. I have seen this with the Night Mode quite often. I can only assume that the white balance is off slightly in some cases with the new RYYB sensor.
That issue gets exacerbated when you activate that 10x hybrid zoom. Although even with that said, the crisp zoom again showcases the P30 Pro camera system strengths. The iPhone digital zoom is impressive given that it manages to preserve some of the details of the cracked paintwork and weathering.
I will say that the Pixel 3 does a great job yet again. I can’t help but be impressed at what it achieves with software enhanced digital zoom. You can clearly make out the balcony and even some of the finer details are retained. I’m not a huge fan of the colors but they are usable all the same.
Not a particularly an enthralling image, but it’s those finer details I mentioned earlier are unearthed and uncovered thanks to the zoom. The Pixel fares badly with the text on the road sign, but it is legible. The 2x telephoto zoom lens on the iPhone does pretty well. I personally find apart from the jump in clarity, there is almost no difference in exposure, dynamic range and color.
I don’t like the initial P30 Pro image, but the zoomed in option is superb as you’d expect. Crystal clear and legible text on the road signs is what the P30 is all about. The more I play with the array of lenses on this smartphone, the more I am impressed at what you can achieve.
Hopefully, this gives you an insight into why having something akin to this 10x hybrid zoom on your smartphone might be a massive benefit and a great inclusion. You could easily argue against zooming in so much. Who needs to be able to shoot from afar anyway? I agree wholeheartedly, but offer a simple rebuttal: why not?
We often bemoan smartphone manufacturers for not pushing the envelope, sticking to the same tried-and-tested formula. With Oppo set to release the Reno smartphone that includes a 10x optical zoom lens globally in the next few weeks, this is only the start of future smartphone camera zooming capabilities.
Being able to capture things from a more unique perspective is one that I have thoroughly enjoyed while using the P30 Pro. Huawei has made one hell of a device, one that really does allow you to think more about how to utilize the camera setup.
Although I do often prefer the Pixel and iPhone images straight out of the camera sans zoom. I can’t help but fall in love with the flexibility of these multiple lens setups with varying focal lengths. Imagine a setup akin to the P30 Pro but backed by Google’s best-in-class computational photographic prowess? I’m salivating at the prospect.
Conversely, it’s worth noting that zooming at 10x isn’t completely terrible on the Pixel 3 XL or iPhone XS Max. You can get usable images, not brilliant, but nowhere near as bad as I had initially expected. I would always suggest that you use digital zoom sparingly, especially if you want crisp clear images.
Kudos to Huawei for pushing the envelope and really taking smartphone photography to a different ‘perspective’. Hopefully, we’ll eventually see such flexibility on our favorite smartphone series over the next few iterations.